Recently, I was asked for personal advice on using Twitter. There are many articles out there that say we (physicians) don’t know how to properly use social media. Social media can be a very powerful tool in medicine. It can not only help us get medical information out there to our patients, but it can also help us connect with people, colleagues, and organizations to give us more visibility—whether for career advancement, media contacts, or just to get our voices heard.

Social Media Basics:

These are some of the tips I have come up with for doctors who want to take advantage of the many opportunities social media can offer:

1. Never communicate to patients through social media outlets. It is a set up for disaster and HIPAA violations.

2. Social media can be used for educating patients. Patients can follow you on these pages to get information about your practice and whatever medical information you wish to share.


3.  Twitter is useful for growing your professional connections. It can be leveraged so you get known and also connect with other doctors, healthcare information technology people, media, etc. Patients can follow you on Twitter, but it generally is not a useful method of providing patient information because tweets are limited to 140 characters.

4. Choose your followers carefully. Block those who spam or troll you (“trolls” are people who negatively post with the deliberate intent of provoking a reaction). Many people will try to sell you things. Monitor your account because it is not uncommon for it to be hacked.

5. Grow your network. Have a group that you regularly tweet your important messages to so they can share and spread it around, or “retweet” it.

6. Watch your words. It is OK to send out personal tweets sometimes. I find this helpful because it encourages more people to interact with me. I find Twitter feeds that are all business rather boring. People will be more interested if you mix it up.

7. Don’t lose your temper. Many people are watching you. If trolled, answer calmly or ignore. Many trolls have groups that will attack if they feel they are being attacked. I am currently being trolled by the anti-vaxxer community because of my advocacy of pro-vaccination. I ignore them. If they send you tweets, no one else sees them unless they put a character in front of your username.

8. Retweet good articles from trusted sources, like the WHO, CDC, or other credible organizations. People will come to see you as a trusted expert and resource.

9. Don’t be shy. Social media is meant to be social. Post favorite tweets, thank people for retweets (or “RTs”), say good morning to get someone’s attention. But don’t be a spammer or stalker…if someone doesn’t respond, move on.


10. Facebook is a better social media platform for delivering patient education material. Ask patients to follow or like your practice on Facebook.

11. You can create separate pages on Facebook but just one account. I have my personal Facebook page, but I also have a page for the practice and a personal professional page.

12. Remember you are in the public now. Don’t do anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t do in public or that you would want to take back. What is posted online, stays online.


13. LinkedIn is a way to strengthen connections for your career. It is like having an online resume.

14. Try to connect to people you know on LinkedIn. You don’t need to accept all invitations to connect with people (I made that mistake and now get many unwanted messages from recruiters).


15. There are now several communities where physicians can collaborate together outside of public scrutiny. The leading such community is Sermo, which is also my favorite. It is physician-only, and doctors are mostly anonymous, which allows the free flow of communication and collaboration.

The advantages are just too many to mention but, in general, doctors are not leveraging these benefits to the maximum potential. It is a vehicle where we can join together and get a unified voice heard. We no longer have to feel isolated.

What social media tips would you like to share?

Dr. Linda Girgis MD, FAAFP, is a family physician in South River, New Jersey. She holds board certification from the American Board of Family Medicine and is affiliated with St. Peter’s University Hospital and Raritan Bay Hospital. Dr. Girgis earned her medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. She completed her internship and residency at Sacred Heart Hospital, through Temple University and she was recognized as intern of the year. Over the course of her practice, Dr. Girgis has continued to earn awards and recognition from her peers and a variety of industry bodies, including: Patients’ Choice Award, 2011-2012, Compassionate Doctor Recognition, 2011-2012. Dr. Girgis’ primary goal as a physician remains ensuring that each of her patients receives the highest available standard of medical care.

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